From EFL to EAP: A shift in skills

Wednesday 8 February 2012

by Louis Rogers

Many people who teach English in summer schools or evening classes around the world will probably spend little time teaching writing skills. The focus tends to be on communication and writing tasks are kept to a minimum. When students are asked to write it will often be for homework or in an exam and little active work is ever done on writing. It could be argued that this balance is right, as most people use a foreign language in contexts that rarely require written discourse. However, this assumption is no longer a safe one to make. Today, more and more communication happens in a written form, via mediums such as social networking sites, texting, blogging, and tweeting. Perhaps one day the main general English course books will shift to reflect this fact. However, until that happens it is likely that writing will continue to be seen as a boring, heads down, individual activity that is given little explicit coverage in a general EFL classroom.

Different EFL contexts can bring writing higher on the spectrum of importance. For example, shifting to business English brings one area of writing to the fore – emails, and potentially some other areas, such a report writing. However, it is within EAP that writing really rises in importance and focus, and arguably becomes the main skill on which a student’s success depends on. This is perhaps reflected most obviously simply by the number of EAP books available to teach this skill, with EAP writing books clearly outweighing the other skills of reading, listening and speaking. This increased importance and shift in focus for an EFL teacher can be quite disconcerting. Having, probably spent little time explicitly teaching writing and suddenly having a 2-hour writing class every day is a considerable shift in a teaching role that at first glance many would assume to be quite similar. It is after all simply another English class, isn’t it?

For many there is a fear of what to teach and how to teach it. In this blog over the next few months I would like to share ideas on how to teach writing. What should we teach and how should we teach it? How can we engage learners in a writing class? Do writing classes have to be heads down? Should we focus on the product, process, or genre? What areas of language should we teach students? And how can we ensure feedback effectively impacts on student’s writing?

One response to From EFL to EAP: A shift in skills

  1. I teach EAP to international students in the UK and look forward to seeing how this series develops. On the question of what should the focus be, one thought is to find out what the departments that students will end up in actually want.

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